Early October, the Saudi monarch, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, recently made his first trip to Russia. According to Bloomberg, His Highness was accompanied by a 1,500 member entourage; a brigade-sized unit of businessmen and dignitaries which occupied two luxury hotels near Red Square; a four-day visit which provided a noticeable boost to the local economy.
Putin mobilized Muslim leaders in Russia, from Tatarshan, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Bashkortostan; in particular, those who already had business ties with the kingdom. The Russian strongman and his guest signed upwards of 15 trade deals . . . among those which pertain to oil, natural gas, petrochemicals, and a manufacturing licence for Saudi Arabia to produce the famed Kalashnikov assault rifles. In addition, the Saudis will be procuring the Kornet EM anti-tank guided missile system, the 220 mm 24-barrel TOS-1A multiple rocket launcher and the AGS Atlant automatic grenade launcher. And, preliminary agreements were signed which enable Saudi Arabia to procure the Russian S-400 Air Defense System; and, cooperation in the field of space exploration. In fact, back in July, Turkey paid Moscow $2.5 billion for the same S-400 Air Defense System.
Saudi arms purchases from Moscow are nothing new. But what is of interest is the seeming realization between the two fossil fuel competitors that it is better to break bread than their economies. Both Russia and Saudi Arabia could use a lift in shoring up oil prices. This means burying the hatchet; while at the same time, the foundation of American Middle East hegemony for the last seven decades, seems to be developing chips, fissures and cracks. Too, the century-old European settlement imparted by the British and French, beginning with the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, an effort in furthering European colonial aspirations in expectation of the impending collapse of the Ottoman Empire, has been under attack from various quarters in the last fifteen years. In other words, we could be witnessing a changing of the guard in one of the most strategically significant areas of the globe.
As opposed to three American presidents – Bush, Jr., Obama and even for the short time Trump has occupied the Oval Office, American fortunes have been thrown into conspicuous reverse. Iraq was a political defeat, just like Vietnam. And Afghanistan is not all that promising either. Yet for the short period of time Vladimir Putin committed Russian troops to Syria, he managed to shore up his client, Bashir Assad, maintained the Russian naval base on the coast and his air base in the interior. At the same time, the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be driving Turkey further East instead of West. Last December, despite the assassination of a Russian diplomat in his country, Erdogan and Putin forged an agreement that was to guarantee a ceasefire in war-plagued Syria; while enabling Russian warships easy transit back and forth through the Turkish Straits from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, followed, of course, by the recent arms deal. And in early October, Turkish-sponsored insurgents in Syria fired on American troops. Erdogan seems to have to have come to the above conclusion based on three counts:
1) The earlier support by Turkey of rebels combating those supported by Russia and Iran, has proved lacking. If Turkey is going to wield any influence in an Assad-dominated Syria, it will have to side with Russia and Iran. Interesting cast of characters when one understands that the Turks are Sunni Muslims, but not of the Sunni Arab variety; and that Iranians are not Arabs but Persians, as well as being Shia Muslims. Assad himself is a Shia Muslim leader in a country that is predominately Sunni.
2) Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant), an al-Qaeda inspired group in Idlib province is on the Turkish border. With the end of a CIA-sponsored program of supplying anti-Assad rebels with such weaponry as anti-tank missiles, defections to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has caused Ankara to rethink its position. Forces loyal to Assad are having no problem incurring support from Moscow and Tehran. And if Turkey is going to be able to curry favor in northern Syria, it may have to throw its lot with Russia and Iran, at the expense of Saudi Arabia and the United States.
3) The Kurds. Reining in the Kurds holds a more powerful attraction for Ankara than removing Assad. As the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria proved able to combat the Islamic State, Turkish-backed rebels proved lacking as a counterbalance to the feisty Kurds. But a Turkish expectation of Russian help in countering the Kurds in northern Syria could prove to be risky. For Russia, too, like the United States, has supported the Kurds, since they offset Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Regardless, the Turks seemed intent on pursuing their strategic interests in Syria. But then, too, . . .
. . . American relations with Turkey are worsening. Both Washington and Ankara have issued suspensions for visas for each other’s citizens. Eleven Americans, including Pastor Andrew Brunson, are in Erdogan’s jails as a result of last year’s coup attempt against his regime. Turkish AK Party deputy, Hamza Dag, urged Washington to remove U.S. Ambassador John Bass from Turkey. Bass is due to be posted to Afghanistan. And, of course, Ankara wants Fethullah Gulen extradited from the United States to Turkey; for the Erdogan Government claims the cleric is one of those responsible for the aforementioned failed coup. Again, such developments can only benefit Moscow.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s “pivot” towards Moscow bears further scrutiny. A development which, if it gathers momentum, can only upset the current U.S.-Israeli-Saudi amalgamation. To be watched, too, is Riyadh’s support for terrorism. A topic broached in Moscow was Saudi support for Chechen Jihadis. This is significant because Jihadis from Russia’s troubled Sunni Muslim province have joined western Ukrainian forces battling separatists and Russian “volunteers” in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. backed pseudo-Fascist government in Kiev has been fielding formations such as the Azov Battalion, a group known for wearing World War II German helmets adorned with swastikas and, which have been assisted by Sunni Jihadis from Chechnya. Earlier this year, Congress passed a $500 million dollar-plus aid package for Ukraine which contained a stipulation that none of the money was to be spent on the Azov Battalion . . . taxpayer dollars going to the same government suspected of forwarding rocket engines to North Korea. Obviously, here, Putin is looking for the Saudis to pressure the Chechens into not supporting the Ukrainians by cutting off the financial spigot.
Western domination of Middle East resources has been on the down slide as of late. America, which assumed the role of Western colonial overseer in 1945, was, at the time, the only game in town – economically, politically, militarily, since much of the developed world was in extremis because of the then recent global conflict . . . which many Americans have been successfully channeled into believing that their subsequent role was that of being the World’s Policeman; which in reality, is Madison Avenue mumbo-jumbo for Pax Americana. But history decrees that every empire will eventually cross the Styx with Charon, as efforts in imperium are mere reflections of Man’s inability to overcome the coils of mortality; leaving that puerile notion of American Exceptionalism as that prophylactic or shield of durability, which will in the end, prove lacking; as Pax Americana will keep its appointment of ill-fated certainty with the mills of the gods.